TOPEKA, Kan. — A non-profit organization hopes that a Kansas case will help change civil forfeiture laws throughout the nation.
The DKT Liberty Project is alleging that the Kansas State Patrol illegally seized $32,100 in cash from a man who was set to use it to buy a truck.
State troopers took the cash after they searched Salvador Franco Jr.’s car without a warrant at a rest area on I-70 near Ellsworth, Kansas, in March, attorney David B. Smith told the Salina Journal. Smith is challenging the forfeiture of the money in federal court in an attempt to end the practice.
“It’s really a bad case — that’s why we took it,” Smith said.
Special U.S. Attorney Colin Wood, though, said in a response filed in court that the cash was drug money and that the girlfriend had pictures of marijuana on her phone.
“Complaints have been upheld on less,” Wood wrote.
The DKT Liberty Project, though, says Franco is innocent.
“We do this because we think the civil forfeiture laws have gone way wrong, and we want to push back,” said A.C. Bushnell, the project’s program director.
Civil forfeiture is a practice in which prosecutors use a civil lawsuit to seize money or property. Such a suit enables the government to take money or property without a criminal conviction or even criminal charges. Franco has not been charged.
Franco and his girlfriend, Liliana Ramirez, allege that a trooper deliberately cued or directed a drug-sniffing dog to find his cash, which was hidden under the rear seat.
Smith says the money was placed there simply because Franco thought it would be the safest place to store it en route from Nevada to St. Louis, where he visited a cousin who recently had a baby. Franco wanted to get a discount on a pickup truck from a dealership and had seen ads for it, Smith added. Many dealers require cash from out-of-state customers, Smith said.
Franco ended up not purchasing the truck and headed back home, Smith said. That’s when he was encountered by police at the rest area for not having a front license plate. Kansas law, though, does not require a front license plate.
“Finally, the handler rapped on the back bumper of the car and the dog allegedly alerted,” Smith wrote in his motion to dismiss the case. “This cuing of the dog was observed by both Franco and Ramirez. Franco angrily remonstrated with the dog handler, to no avail.”
Troopers also cursed at the two, shouted at them and called them derogatory names, Smith alleged.
“They’re probably embarrassed because the whole thing was illegal,” Smith said. “Basically, the officer involved didn’t respect any of their constitutional rights. He seized the money and threatened to keep the money — until they signed a form giving up their rights to it. Efforts to reform our forfeiture laws are driven by horror stories like this one.”
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